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Local Jews and allies urged to #ShowUpForShabbat in wake of Pittsburgh

For Jews across the world and their interfaith allies, Friday will be more than a day of rest ushered in by lighted candles and a blessing. It will be a statement about commitment, unity, and fearlessness in the face of terror.

Rabbi Adam Zeff inspects the pre-Second World War, Russian Torah scrolls during a preparation for the upcoming Sabbath at the sanctuary of Germantown Jewish Center, in Mt Airy, on November 1st, 2018.
Rabbi Adam Zeff inspects the pre-Second World War, Russian Torah scrolls during a preparation for the upcoming Sabbath at the sanctuary of Germantown Jewish Center, in Mt Airy, on November 1st, 2018.Read moreBASTIAAN SLABBERS / For the Inquirer

On Friday evening, nearly a week after a gunman in Pittsburgh turned the Jewish Sabbath into a day of death worldwide, veterinary student Shira Rosenblum will host a Shabbat meal in her Center City apartment for friends and strangers.

Arizona lawyer Joshua Offenhartz will visit Philadelphia for a cousin's wedding, but also seek out a synagogue in which to pray.

Rabbi Jerome David will stand at the bimah — the platform from which the scriptures are read — of Temple Emanuel in Cherry Hill for a special service observing the pain of the tragedy.

For Jews and their interfaith allies, the Sabbath will be more than a day of rest ushered in by lighted candles and a blessing. It will be a statement about commitment, unity, and fearlessness in the face of terror — the message carried on a gathering wave of calls to worship following the carnage at the Tree of Life synagogue.

The American Jewish Committee (AJC), an international advocacy organization, is urging not only Jews but people of all faiths, elected officials, and religious and civil rights leaders to  #ShowUpForShabbat, to flood synagogues on Friday and show that "when hate raises its ugly head anywhere in our country, we will rise to confront it with solidarity and determination," it said in a statement. The group also has posted online a solidarity statement for signing, and has created a prayer that can be recited during services.

"If you can't be safe in an institution of faith, where can you be safe?" said Marcia Bronstein, director of the regional AJC Philadelphia/Southern New Jersey. "We refuse to be afraid and we are standing together."

READ MORE>> After Pittsburgh shooting, clients ask HIAS PA: 'Am I safe?'

The Jewish Federations of North America, an umbrella organization partnering with AJC, has created the #SolidarityShabbat hashtag to encourage those who attend Friday services to post photos, said Steven Rosenberg, chief marketing officer of the Greater Philadelphia federation.

Rosenberg grew up in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood, the scene of last Saturday's massacre, and knew several of the 11 people killed. "Awful, brutal," he said, his voice shaking.

Since launching Sunday, the hashtags have been used thousands of times on Twitter and have been seen by millions around the world.

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and OneTable, a nonprofit that brings together young adults for Shabbat dinners, have joined up to encourage more people to host the Friday night meals in a show of unity. The campaign was originally launched last summer by OneTable after Heather Heyer was killed while protesting against white nationalists rallying in Charlottesville, Va. On Monday, the ADL also started a digital vigil for those unable to attend commemorations of the Pittsburgh dead.

Organizations including the Jewish Federations of North America, the Orthodox Union, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, and the Jewish Community Center Association of North America have signed on to support the efforts. Jewish communities in countries including England, South Africa, and China have pledged to participate.

At 6 p.m. Friday, Rabbi Adam Zeff of the Germantown Jewish Centre  in Mount Airy will lead interfaith services during a weekend the synagogue reserves to celebrate the legacy of its former rabbi, Elias Charry, who was instrumental in persuading Jewish families to remain in Mount Airy in the 1960s and '70s, when many Jews — and synagogues —  were moving to the suburbs.

"He thought it was a religious duty to engage with different communities, and that we would learn more about what it means to be Jewish when we are in close contact with people who are not Jews," said Zeff, noting that members are likely to be surrounded by an interfaith and interracial show of support from neighbors on Friday.

READ MORE>>Pittsburgh shooting suspect to be arraigned Thursday

In Cheltenham, Rabbi Leah R. Berkowitz will lead Congregation Kol Ami's "First Friday" service, during which blessings are offered for birthdays and anniversaries and other special occasions.

"It is typical of spiritual spaces, that communities are often celebrating and mourning at the same time,"  Berkowitz said.

Temple Emanuel in Cherry Hill has fielded a plethora of calls about #ShowUpForShabbat and is anticipating that its usual attendance of 150 for Friday night services will double.

The synagogue usually hosts two Friday evening services, a family gathering and a traditional service. This week, they will be combined, to memorialize those killed in Pittsburgh.

"We have to show everybody that we will assemble. We will be together," said Andy Katz, the synagogue's executive director.

Rosenblum, 25, who usually attends Mekor Habracha Center City Synagogue, won't be in services on Friday, but instead will assemble about 10 people at the dinner table in her apartment for chicken, salad, and roasted vegetables. The third-year veterinary student at the University of Pennsylvania will host the dinner as part of a Jewish Graduate Student Network initiative promoting home-based Shabbat dinners.

The network partners with area Hillels and the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia to encourage Jewish graduate students to connect and build community. The group provides funding for the dinners.

When introduced in September, the initiative had difficulty gaining traction, said Tslil Shtulsaft, the network's executive director. But after the call this week to #ShowUpForShabbat, offers to host spiked. By Thursday, Shtulsaft had at least 19 volunteers for this weekend or next.

The Pittsburgh murders are the first time, Rosenblum said, that she has felt the full force of an anti-Semitic act so personally.

"I think we just all want to be together as a community," she said, "now more than ever."

Offenhartz, 30, is flying into Philadelphia with that resolve. His cousin's wedding is Saturday evening, but before he celebrates, he plans to find a synagogue in which to pray and remember.

He and his family, he said, frequently have been the targets of anti-Semitic bigotry in Arizona — his first time was when he was 6 — and while the Pittsburgh attack was a shock, it was no surprise. He will attend services Friday and Saturday morning in a show of solidarity.

"I feel a personal obligation as a millennial to make sure that I am standing up, because so many before me have had to stand up in more difficult times and circumstances," Offenhartz said. "Now it's my time to say, 'We won't allow you to intimidate us, or deter us from practicing our faith.'"